H&M is too silent on sustainability

H&M’s annual sustainability report, published today (12 April) contains some impressive achievements, but is H&M doing enough to make sure that its customers know about its ethical and sustainability credentials?

H&M’s annual sustainability report, published today (12 April) contains some impressive achievements, but is H&M doing enough to make sure that its customers know about its ethical and sustainability credentials?

H&M is now the world’s largest user of organic cotton and aims to use only sustainable cotton by 2020. It has introduced new materials such as ‘better cotton’ that reduces the stress on the environment and improves the social conditions for farmers, and organic hemp, which has less impact on the environment.

It has also extended is ‘Conscious Collection’ ethical fashion range it launched a year ago.

H&M has been reporting on its sustainability progress on seven main aims that span its supply chain, manufacturing and lifecycle of its clothes, for 10 years.

H&M’s enormous global scale gives it the power to have a huge impact on the environment and make huge positive changes, which means that of course it should be doing the things it is doing to build a more sustainable business. But does anyone that shops there know about it?

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO at H&M said today that H&M wants its customers to “feel confident” that everything they buy at H&M is designed, made and handled with consideration for the environment.

As a woman that regularly shops at H&M, I do feel confident that H&M is no worse than its rivals on the high street. But nothing in the way the H&M brand speaks to me tells me that H&M is any better in terms of its ethical sourcing and sustainability credentials. Am I missing something or is this the case for the majority of H&M’s customers around the globe?

If, as Persson claims, “the level of social and environmental responsibility we take, places H&M’s sustainability work at the forefront of the fashion industry globally” then the chain is wasting an opportunity to tell consumers about it.

The report and its goals are far reaching but it is in its marketing communications that H&M is missing a trick.

Many businesses chose to take the quiet approach to green business and quite rightly, because many others take too loud an approach and instead of appealing to consumers have the opposite effect.

The balance between being known for good green business and being criticised for green washing is a difficult one. It’s a balance that I think M&S does well to keep. At the same time as making its ethical Plan A at the core of its business strategy and its customer communications, it has broadly speaking managed to avoid ramming it down people’s throats in an off-putting way.

H&M, however, could do more to tell consumers about its efforts in these areas without using green business as a battering ram.

It could do what no other high street fashion retailer has managed to do: be known as both fast and ethical value fashion without asking its customers to compromise on price, quality or style credentials.

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